Earlier this year this blog disclosed how the Ministry of Justice had quietly set up a profit making subsidiary with the aim of marketing justice to obnoxious and corrupt regimes like Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and has now been revealed Macedonia.
This disclosure caused some embarrassment and a lot of anger that the United Kingdom government should be bidding to profit from advising countries like Saudi Arabia who lash bloggers and hold street beheadings which the UK forcibly condemn should the Islamic State do the same. The anger is most eloquently expressed on the blog of lawyer David Allen Green who runs a superb commentary on his Jack of Kent blog.
Naturally I thought it would be in the public interest to find out exactly how this rather shadowy body had been set up and what was the ministerial drive behind it.So what better device than the current Freedom of Information Act to ask the ministry the questions. That was last January .
This was my request:” I would like to request details of all emails and communications between ministers and officials held by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS regarding the establishment of Just Solutions International under the present coalition government.”
it took the ministry exactly 28 days( the maximum under the act) to decide that such a request was so broad that they sent me a letter saying they would refuse to proceed with it at all unless I narrowed its scope. They could have told me the next day if it was the case.
So on February 25 I sent an amended request:
“What I would like to request are documents and communications ( by email) between officials and ( if any) between officials and ministers which led to the creation of Just Solutions International. eg pertaining to the reason why it was set up and. its role within noms and the ministry.”
It took until late April ( way beyond the 28 day period) to answer with a lovely letter dated xx April 2015 . And guess what evidently Whitehall has so much material debating the creation of Just Solutions International that it is too expensive to send it to me.
According to the letter it exceeds the £600 cost limit and would take civil servants more than three and a half days to find them all.
As their letter says; “In this instance to provide you with the information we would be required to locate emails, which we have estimated exceed 2000, since 2012 which detail the creation of Just Solutions international.”
They have suggested I could narrow down the request a again either to a short time period or by named official ( I don’t have the names of all the officials anyway). However in the spirit of kindly co-operation I have narrowed down the time limit to one year and see if this yields any results. I await the reply with interest though they have not given me the courtesy of saying they received the request yet.
I suspect that the officials don’t really want to release anything – because the whole volume of correspondence – seems to suggest to me that they had a lot to discuss about why and how this private profit making company was set up. But there is no reason yet to give up and all the more reason to probe exactly what is behind an initiative that believes making money from dodgy regimes is an ethical revenue earner for the taxpayer.